Mindfulness is not a new concept or practice, however it seems to be more popular these days. I first learned about mindfulness in 2004 when I was trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It is one of the core skills that needs to be learned and taught in that approach. From the training until now, I have fallen in love with the practice and often incorporate it into my work with clients and in my own life. So what is it? Simply put, it is the practice of focusing the mind in the present moment, on purpose, and in a nonjudgmental way. One can practice mindful meditation, practice being mindful throughout the day and live a life mindfully. I have learned about many different meditation practices and mindfulness is my favorite one. It is different than any other type of meditation because unlike other practices, mindfulness doesn’t ask you to clear your mind or focus on any one thing. Mindfulness asks you to pay attention to whatever is happening within your mind and in your environment no matter what it is: a thought, a feeling, an image, a physical sensation… Any and all of it!
There are three ways to practice mindfulness: to observe whatever is happening in the moment (like watching a painting, you view it, see it with no words), to describe whatever is happening in the moment, (where you use words to describe what you observe in a nonjudgmental way), and to participate in the moment (this practice involves you fully entering into an experience, staying present, engaged, kind of like how you were when driving in the first few weeks of getting your permit!). In addition to these different ways to practice being mindful, there are three things to try to follow as a guide of being mindful: be nonjudgmental (unglue your opinions from what you see/experience/think, remove the attitude that things are “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong,” etc.), do one thing at a time/give each experience its undivided attention, and be effective (focus on what works, like when your driving a new car and you learn the exact pressure to apply to the breaks in order for the car to stop comfortably vs. the pressure you may apply when in a different car).
This is a mental practice. And the more you practice, the better you become. It takes mindfulness to be more aware when you are experiencing an emotion, or to become more aware when you are thinking in a destructive, hurtful, and unhealthy way. Often people experiencing depression get stuck in thoughts and feelings from the past. And often people with anxiety get caught up in anticipating things that are going to happen in the future. In these cases the practice of mindfulness is not about pretending that those feelings and thoughts (about the past or about the future) are not there or about trying to push them away. Its about acknowledging that these feelings and thoughts are being experienced here and now and that they are about the past or are about the future. Being mindful is one way to keep yourself grounded.
It may not take away the sadness or fear in the moment, but it may reduce the potential for you to fuel these emotions with denial or perpetual negative thinking patterns. Sometimes just being validated for the emotional place that you are in is all that is needed to embrace and deal with the situation at hand. Being mindful of the state you are in is like driving on the highway when it starts to rain heavy; you acknowledge the environmental shift and you adjust your speed to respond effectively to the situation at hand. There are times when we need to tend to our thoughts and emotions more than others, and mindfulness is one strategy that can prove beneficial. This practice empowers us to take better care of our emotional and personal well being